Relevance of Libraries

I atttended The Relevance of Libraries in a Digital Age teleconference on May 11th, and sadly I’m just now getting around to posting about it! I hope you don’t mind my tardiness. I think I’m going to try to live-blog (blog WHILE watching) the next teleconference I attend!

Here are my notes – they get a little sporadic, so I hope they will make sense! Feel free to ask questions in the comments and I’ll try to address everything I can.

To stay relevant in the digital age, we must:

  • Look at staffing, collections, study users, understand technology and identify funding streams.
  • Identify and mentor new librarians.

For Academic libraries

  • Advocacy – talk about what librarians do in the digital age, reach out to the academic community
  • Creative recruitment of librarians
  • Pay attention to code of ethics, core values
  • Civic engagement
  • Scholarly communication
  • Technology is a factor in all these trends

The Engaged Library –

  • individual librarians should take responsibility to be involved, not just wait for the insitution to change
  • Artificial break between analog & digital
  • Bureaucratic institutions holding us back. Administration needs to listen to their staff instead of a top-down approach to management.
  • Open access – libraries can become involved
  • Flexibility and adaptability are the key to the future.
  • Collaborations – look for partners outside of the library world.
  • Listen to users


  • less strategic planning & more strategic action
  • Look at the budget to determine the true strategic plan
  • Get librarians untethered from reference desk & catalog room

Library as place

  • People appreciate wonderful buildings
  • Plan them with future in mind
  • Place is important
  • Need group space
  • Students need collaborative space
  • Book a room/ book a librarian – librarians can give specialized help for study groups.
  • Develop spaces for individual groups- e.g. teen space
  • Space is at a premium
  • Library can affect the economic engine of a community – make sure community understands their value
  • Increases attention to the library digital space – embed library in the learning space, get away from desk
  • Don’t wait for users to come to you.

User needs

  • Figure out who users are. (one university library hired an ethnographer)
  • Learn to respond to diversity
  • Demographics change constantly
  • Serendipity and impressions don’t cut it any more
  • Be more nimble, be faster
  • Users expect better,immediate customer service
  • Put tools in their hands
  • We provide information literacy but it is based on anecdotal evidence.
  • Libraries creating workplaces that millennials want for the future.
  • Libraries would be competing with a commercial vendor vs. Libraries being more entrepreneurial, marketing our expertise. (this is regarding competing with services like Google, Amazon, Netflix vs. using our own expertise on providing a unique service).
  • Risk taking: re. Off the shelf ILS vs. open source ILS

Professional development & education

  • Future of library education. Relevance of MLS degree
  • Recruiting new librarians with the skills that are needed has been difficult
  • New grads coming into different environments than they expected
  • Important thing is staff training & development – essential for people coming from other backgrounds
  • Put more focus on pre-MLS experience & education
  • Need to make sure that staff have the skills they need.
  • 60% of new positions being advertised aren’t professional librarian positions, but require other specialities
  • Re-engagement of library education
  • Libraries need a variety of backgrounds to succeed in the future
  • The reference desk is no longer a mystery

Political aspects

  • Advocacy is essential, involve everyone, work at the local level, be persistent.
  • Need to be more sophisticated about political issues on local, federal, global levels.This is critical for the future of libraries.

I thought this was a particularly engaging teleconference.  All of the speakers were very high energy and enthusiastic – you could tell they really believed in the future and had some great ideas.  Some of these really resonated with me, especially the section on the relevance and future of library education.

What about you?  What ideas to you have?


~ by Anali on May 21, 2007.

3 Responses to “Relevance of Libraries”

  1. Fascinating notes!

    When I think of librarians, our profession is just like any other. So there are librarians who accept and embrace change as a normal fact and there are those who don’t. I hope that in MLS programs instructors are emphasizing that this is not a profession which you should be entering if you are not prepared to deal with a fast rate of change and an environment in a continuous state of flux.

    My second thought concerns the library that hired an ethnographer. I have often felt that we would be better served as public libraries if each branch had one paralegal and one social worker on staff.

    My third thought concerns how public libraries have not adapted to the staffing changes brought on my having multiple PCs on the floor. I am paid a fortune to tell people how to print, how to save a file, and how to sign up for a PC. (Of course we always have been paid a fortune to tell people where the bathroom is, too, but not to the same degree as these PC questions.) These desks do not require an MLS to give customer service of this kind. Yet our bureaucracies do not allow for the flexibility to easily change these positions so that taxpayers get better return on their dollars.

    Thank you for contributing this interesting entry!

  2. The concept that libraries are the foundation of democracy needs to be integrated more deeply into the Political aspects. I am not sure if that is what “Advocacy is essential” or being “more sophisticated” might mean, but I think those two bullets are more advocating for the library profession and not examining what libraries are needed for politically. Libraries are powerful places and I sometimes think the profession doesn’t own their power. If the public doesn’t understand the worth of a library, your self advocacy is going to go nowhere. Libraries are not bookstores, they provide a different service. I don’t want libraries competing with bookstores, I want them to be proud of reaching out to people who cannot drink a Starbucks while listening to soothing music and browsing the best sellers. A library needs deep community attachment and involvement. It should be a rock in the community.

    I say this as a lover of libraries. I don’t have an MLS.

    * Advocacy is essential, involve everyone, work at the local level, be persistent.
    * Need to be more sophisticated about political issues on local, federal, global levels.This is critical for the future of libraries.

  3. How about marketing? I often found us providing wonderful services but failing to tell our community what we do.
    Louis brought up a very interesting point regarding how we use tax payer’s money. If we can be more conscientious about how we spend the tax dollar we receive, reach the people we serve, deliver the services and aggressively demonstrate how we maximize the return, I think we should have the community’s support, unless we are so clueless that we work against our community’s values.
    It’s hard to believe that I first learned about the Internet only twelve years ago. I feel that we are just coming out of a dark age and are at the dawn of another Age of Enlightenment. Imagining how the last Age of Enlightenment changed the world that was asleep for almost a thousand years in a relatively short period of time, I wouldn’t be surprised even the near future is beyond what we can perceive now.
    Lately, I have be pondering what a 21st Century library will be like. We heard a lot about the 21st Century Librarian. Honestly, I don’t think a group of 21st Century librarians will be sufficient to staff a 21st Century library. We need the knowledge and skills of other professions (well said, Louis, about the paralegal and social worker) to run the best library. What will those skills be? And how will the technologies play a role in everything (yes, I mean EVERYTHING) we do?
    I don’t know about you but I know I will spend the rest of this year thinking just about that.

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